Angel Kischka O. Baccay
Sandra Nicole Patrice P. Garcia
Alyssa Andrei T. Llaguno
SA 21 – Section X
May 1, 2017
In the digital age, the colloquialisms and experiences of the millennial generation can be encapsulated in a few words—or “hashtags,” as people in the current would call it—and “squad,” “lit,” and “goals” are among those. Emerging from the depths of the comments section in an Instagram picture right up to the mouths of a millennial, these terms are commonly used to communicate a certain amount of yearning for the lives depicted on social media. “Goals!”, said a friend on a particular post-workout selfie—a photo glamorizing even the sweat-inducing act of exercising, with fitness as the prime indication of a life well put together. This phenomenon of hyperpersonalization, or enhancing public image, through the use of fitness is widespread; and nothing gives off the impression of a youthful, healthy, and active lifestyle more than an individual who practices Yoga.
As young adults who are up to date with the latest trends on the Internet, we, like almost everyone we know, were pulled into the alluring world of Yoga—the air of nonchalance that seemingly surrounds those who practice it and the overall peaceful and serene ambiance that it supposedly entails. Fueled by our curiosity and awe, we proceeded to sign up for free classes offered by a studio just across our university. These free classes were posted on Ateneo Trade, the buy-and-sell Facebook group of the Ateneo community. Upon contacting the studio through text and reserving our “mats”—substituted for the word “slots”—Ms. Joy, who introduced herself to be the instructor, responded with the important details of the activity: date, time, address, confirmation process on-site, proper attire, things to bring, and other essentials, should we choose to collect our bearings and freshen up afterwards.
We were set to have our very first Yoga session at 12:15 on a Friday afternoon, March 31, in Whitespace Mind and Body Wellness Studio, 6th Floor, Regis Center, Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City. By midmorning of that day, the three of us were appropriately dressed, taking heed of Ms. Joy’s note to “wear clothes you can sweat and stretch in.” In tight-fitting, stretchable leggings and loose shirts, we headed to the studio for our first-ever practice of Yoga—something we have only ever witnessed vicariously through screens and other people’s stories. Despite its location in Regis Center, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Katipunan Avenue, the wellness center persists and thrives in being a sanctuary. Aptly named Whitespace, the studio exudes the atmosphere of relaxation and tranquility. It has stark white walls complemented by warm tones of the wood accents. The reception area greets you with intriguing antiques and writings—others strange and others somewhat surprisingly familiar—associated with different aspects of Yoga. The subtlety of the rocks propped against the marbles on the desk are neutralized by the exquisite intricacy of the engraved “Om,” a mystic Sanskrit syllable considered to be the most sacred mantra in Hinduism, the religious and spiritual roots from which Yoga originated. This single special character, whose meaning has been lost in the mists of time, appears to have been deliberately placed by the entrance to serve not only as a welcome to the mystical world of Yoga, but also a subtle yet symbolic foreshadow of the religious incantation one would inevitably witness within its realm, and even choose to participate in. Consequently, this sharp contrast creates a certain mystique that, in turn, further piques one’s interest and curiosity, almost evoking a sense of fascination among its guests.
Past the reception, a slightly elevated wooden platform adorned with small pebbles, clear marbles, and bamboo straws leads the people over the length of the studio space. Accompanied by soothing sounds of raindrops, river flow, and instrumental music, we were acquainted with three rooms called “Serenity,” “Harmony,” and “Vitality”—names befitting the unmistakable vitality one feels and breathes upon immersing in the serene ambiance and experiencing for oneself the harmonious ties among instructors and clientele. There were also two alternative rooms called “Tranquility” and “Equanimity” that literally embody what Whitespace advocates for.
Whitespace conquers the limitations brought about by the small floor area through utilizing glass walls and large windows to frame its rooms. As a result, the studio was able to efficiently maximize the space, incorporate practicality into interior design, and above all, embody the calm and tranquility that it promises to promote. A counter is conveniently located across the rooms to serve water and hot tea. Above the tabletop, motivational quotes were plastered on the wall, advocating wellness, spirituality, and balance of mind and body. Some Hindi/Sanskrit sayings were recognizable to us, owing to our good memory of Asian History. The three tenets of Jainism practiced to attain enlightenment, Ahimsa (nonviolence), Anekantavada (non-absolutism), and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness), were written in bold yet decorative handwriting—a perfect combination for a subtle yet effective reminder. Another Sanskrit principle, the Satyagraha, loosely translated to truth force, also stood out in its artistic lettering. But the most prominent of all was the famed, celebrated, and quite expected “Namaste,” the traditional Indian greeting and gesture of respect, demonstrated by having the palms together against the chest and bowing. Namaste does not have a direct translation that is capable and substantial enough to encompass what it truly means. Essentially, Namaste is equivalent to saying, “The spirit within me acknowledges, salutes, and embraces the spirit within you.” Its pattern and calligraphy was the most colorful and intricate of all.
The tabletop was also decorated and illuminated with white, scented candles that emanate warmth and a calming aroma. There were distinct fragrances of various oils as well—peppermint, lavender, and jasmine—but they surprisingly worked well together to give a feeling of relaxation with a little zest of energy, and did not clash into something completely repulsive and nauseating.
Towards the end of the hallway lies the area allocated for lockers and restrooms. One can opt to have a locker in exchange for a valid ID, as mentioned by Ms. Joy in our conversation. Even the lockers were covered with mirrors to maintain the illusion of a spacious studio.
Evidently, the place was constructed with the concepts of continuity and openness in mind, and it proves to be effective. The space never felt cramped and the participants did not seem to feel constricted in the relatively small area for a studio. If the need arises when the number of participants exceeds room capacity, the wooden partitions in between rooms could be adjusted to accommodate the surplus. Regardless of its architectural limitations, we observed that Whitespace still is able to foster a safe and nurturing space for people looking to discover the transformative power of Yoga and mindfulness and find peace and balance within themselves.
Whitespace Mind and Body Wellness Studio offers free Yoga classes and encourages people to participate, whether looking to stretch and strengthen the body, calm and center the mind, or even heal and harmonize the soul. The three of us were driven by intrigue and a hint of envy, aggravated even more by social media savvy Yoga practitioners who post their post-Yoga selfies highlighting their patterned pants, toned bodies, and bordering-grotesque poses. Our wellness journey started with something superficial, but we ended up with so much more.
Staying true to its vision, Whitespace focuses on fostering a community through constant guidance and support, which Ms. Joy feels are the most vital elements in practicing Yoga. “These things overlap with each other, but the umbrella that covers them all is CHOICE. We want to take your wellness journeys in the direction that YOU want to go. And we do so with instructors that are passionate about the practice and committed to their respective students.”
Our Yoga session was assigned in the Serenity room, which we thought was universe’s clever way of giving us exactly what we need—an escape from the academic pandemonium and into the serene; and something about the slipping out of our dirtied, worn-out sneakers and setting foot into the bright and sunlit studio symbolically represented that.
The Serenity room was lined with bamboo ornaments and pebbles on one side, resembling a freshly landscaped garden, and huge glass windows overlooking Katipunan Avenue on another—finding the perfect balance between the commotion of the city and tranquility of the tropics. There were mats and ropes prepared for us and a woman was standing in front with a warm, welcoming smile. At that exact moment, it dawned on us the realization that we are really here, we are really doing this, and there’s no going back.
As with all firsts, exploring an uncharted territory—especially one so romanticized in the digital world—always brings in a rush of adrenaline. With the excitement of venturing into an activity the three of us were unaccustomed to comes the usual tinge of nervousness, but also the eagerness of finally experiencing and immersing oneself in something entirely unfamiliar. Tethered to the idea of Yoga as an accessory for hyperpersonalization and not an age-old ritual, it would be easy, we thought, since videos circulated online show people doing Yoga with ease and stances being executed effortlessly. The blasé portrayal of Yoga on the Internet conveyed it as an unchallenging and elementary practice. We were mistaken, and this misconception hints at the snafu that will transpire in the session and translated into the instructor correcting our posture from time to time, not expecting the physical and mental faculties the activity demands. How, then, did we misconstrue the act of Yoga—as did most of the young people who try their hand in it? Often we attempt to grasp or comprehend centuries worth of culture and history from a heavily diluted post through social media, fostering a kind of naïveté that generalizes the particular—reducing traditional Sanskrit chants into an exercise for the regulation of breathing, poses into Instagram-worthy shots, and Yoga only as a measure of a healthy and stable lifestyle.
After exchanging pleasant smiles and greetings, the woman introduced herself to be Ms. Joy Jacinto, a yogini—a female Yoga practitioner—and our instructor of the day and the person we have been in contact with. We had told her in advance that we were beginners, which led her to instruct us to find our place near the front in order for us to see the poses clearly and follow them correctly. While waiting for the other students to arrive, we engaged in conversation with her and she encouraged us to let loose and be carefree. “Tense and stiff bodies do not go well with Yoga!” she exclaimed. We put our faith in her constant reassurance that our first Yoga experience will be fun, rejuvenating, and most of all, fulfilling.
The students started pouring in and the room was eventually packed. Ms. Joy and her assistant teacher, Ms. Sherryl Tuazon, welcomed us all and expressed their gratitude for our presence and participation, which they revealed to be a crucial step in completing their certification requirements to become verified Yoga instructors. They needed to hold classes without charge in exchange for the practical experience they would gain, both as compliance with the prerequisite and preparation for what legitimacy as a Yoga instructor entails.
They gave a short introduction to what kind of Yoga we were about to practice—Hatha Yoga. According to Ms. Joy, most forms of Western Yoga are classified under Hatha Yoga—the most basic and inclusive form of Yoga, making it suitable for beginners, that integrates the practice of physical yoga postures or asanas and breathing exercises or pranayama that together help ease and align the mind, body, and spirit and prepare it for deeper spiritual praxis such as meditation. Further research reveals that the Sanskrit hatha possesses elements associated with “balance.” In terms of etymology, Ha- translates to “sun” and -tha translates to “moon,” connoting a balance between the cosmic forces. In practical terms, Ms. Joy explains that Hatha Yoga can straighten out physical and mental imbalances. Moreover, Hatha also traces its roots back to “force”—translating to being willful and adamant in conquering one’s body and “forcing things to happen.” It stems from an intimate understanding of how your body works and utilizing that connection to sustain higher levels of energy. As rigorous as that may sound, Ms. Joy guaranteed that it will still be relatively slow and gentle, accommodating to our beginner pace—to which we breathed a sigh of relief.
What makes Hatha Yoga appropriate for beginners is that it does not require any special physical agility or previous experience. It entails a very subtle and gradual change in the energy system of the body and once regularly practiced, it can can slowly yet effectively enhance and transform the way one thinks, sees, feels, and experiences life. Quoting Ms. Joy, “we are taking baby steps, but these baby steps can ultimately revolutionize the way you perceive life.” Ms. Sherryl adds, “Not only can it improve health and wellbeing, but also help you realize your fullest potential and reconnect you back to your soul—to your spirituality.”
The onset of instrumental music signified the formal beginning of our very first Yoga session. Ms. Joy calmly directed us to sit on the mats “Indian style,” also called the “Lotus position,” which is actually the most basic asana, the Padmasana, a cross-legged position in which the feet are placed on the opposing thighs and the hands are rested on the knees. This asana derived its name from its resemblance to a lotus, which encourages proper breathing through balance and stability.
With closed eyes, straight posture, and rhythmic breathing, we were in a solemn and spiritual state brought about by Hatha Yoga.
Ms. Joy softly spoke, encouraging us to focus our energies into our senses, particularly the sense of hearing. She invited to listen to the gentle flow of the waterfall music, the high-pitched beeps of the vehicles along the jam-packed roads, and the invigorating sound of our own hearts beating against our chest. Once the sound has been established, Ms. Joy taught us how to employ the Ujjayi breath, commonly known as “victorious breath” or “ocean breath.” Pronounced as oo-jai, this ancient Yogic breathing technique has been used in Hatha Yoga practice ever since its debatable dawn. It helps synchronize breathing with physical movements, making the entire practice more rhythmic and harmonious.
The Ujjayi breath was demonstrated by Ms. Joy and she gave us the choice to follow. According to her, it is important to ascertain that her students are comfortable in what he/she is doing. In Yoga, choice and consent are essential. She then went on to perform it by sealing one’s lips and breathing in and out through the nose. Afterwards, one inhales more deeply and exhales more slowly through the nose, while the muscles at the back of the throat are contracted. Then, one gradually shifts to slowly and loudly exhaling through the mouth, emulating the sound of ocean waves crashing against the shore. Ms. Joy remarks that the Ujjayi breath is not only employed in Hatha Yoga practice, but also during times of strenuous activity, anxiety, and agitation.
Ms. Joy brought us back to our physical selves when her voice echoed around the room, saying, “Now, I invite you to chant the sacred mantra of peace, but if you want, it’s fine as well, ‘Oṃ śānti śānti śānti.’” The class recited the incantation thrice.
Afterwards, the class went to perform the main practice, the Surya Namaskar Hatha Yoga, or the “Sun Salutation,” another ancient yogic tradition that assimilates worship of the rising and setting of the surya, the sun. This represents the cycle of day and night, dawn and dusk, and inhalation and exhalation. Ms. Joy also mentions that this warm-up exercise is the perfect time for reflection and exercise, as it tones the muscles, massages the organs, and speeds up metabolism.
The sequence is as follows and comes full circle back to the original position:
- Pranamasana – eyes closed, upright position, feet together, palms held together at the center of the chest
- Hasta Uttanasana – inhale; hands shoulder width apart, reaching back, bent slightly
- Utanasana – exhale; slightly bent knees, body bent forward, head facing knees, fingers or palms touching the floor
- Ashwa Sanchalanasana – inhale; right leg stretched back, left knee bent, foot flat on the floor, arched back, upward gaze
- Adho Mukha Svanasana – exhale; palms flat on the floor, left foot stepped back beside right foot, hips lifted up into the air, lengthened spine (downward dog)
- Ashtanga Namaskara – exhale; lifted heels, lowered knees, chin, and chest, raised hips and abdomen
- Bhujangasana – inhale; hands and feet in place, chest slid forward and raised up, pulled shoulders away from ears, tilted head looking up
- Adho Mukha Svanasana – exhale; hands and feet in place, lifted hips, heels back to the ground, lengthened spine, shoulders towards the ankles
- Ashwa Sanchalanasa – same as step 4
- Utanasana – same as step 3
- Hasta Utanasana – same as step 2
- Pranamasana – same as step 1
Both Ms. Joy and Ms. Sherryl helped us students to correct our poses during the session. Some of the students were We observed a tag-team process taking place in which Ms. Joy would stay in front and lead the routine. Meanwhile, Ms. Sherryl would check if all the students are following accordingly. Both Nicole and Angel were in constant need of guidance and correction because of their lack of flexibility and balance.
At the end of the session, we were all asked to lie down on our mats, close our eyes, and reflect on the “mystical experience” we have just immersed ourselves in. But what we have realized is that, the Yoga depicted on media is nowhere near the Yoga we experienced. We encountered several difficulties in balancing ourselves and engaging our bodies in order to recreate that photo online that garnered numerous likes and comments. We reflected on the perpetuated Yoga culture of commodity and hyperpersonalization on social media. Nevertheless, our first-ever Yoga practice was definitely memorable and worthwhile. It may not have sent us to Nirvana, but it did give us a sense of peace and serenity. Lastly, Ms. Joy and Ms. Sherryl applied various soothing oils on our forehead.
After the session, we interviewed Ms. Joy in order to learn more about this event. Ms. Joy started practicing Yoga in 2007 where she had no plans of becoming a full-time yoga instructor. She was simply looking for fresh avenue to workout. Through the years, Ms. Joy ended up finding a new love for the practice in which it did not only strengthen her body, but also her mind. She pursued being an instructor as a full time profession due to the fact that she wanted a job that was physically and spiritually sustainable for her. Ranging from 20-70 years old and with a ratio of 90% females and 10% males, Ms. Joy’s classes are modified to fit the needs of the participants at present. Aside from getting her accreditation at Whitespace Wellness, Ms. Joy teaches regularly at Treehouse Yoga in BF Homes Paranaque and Anytime Fitness Alabang.
Ms. Joy defines Yoga as “the practice of achieving the union of the body, mind, and spirit, via certain postures, breathwork and meditation.” In our pursuit to learning more about Yoga, our key informant even recommended a couple of books explaining the origins and definitions of Yoga which was the “Yoga Body” by Mark Singleton and “Science of Yoga” by William J. Broad. In line with this and contrary to the simplification of a sacred ritual, it then begs the question: what exactly is Yoga?
Yoga takes its origins from Ancient India which at that time was a rich part of Hindu culture. In which, the Rig Veda, an ancient collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns, mentions Yoga for the very first time in recorded history. These prehistoric documents the early existence of Yoga and its roots as a spiritual discipline in Hinduism. It focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body, with its maxim serving as a parallel to what modern scientists believe: everything in the universe is just a manifestation of the same quantum firmament. This echoes the aim of Yoga, to attain self-actualization, to experience the oneness of existence, to realize the ‘state of liberation’ (moksha) or ‘freedom’ (kaivalya). Those who have achieved self-actualization and reached nirvana are called Yogi.
As with all early historic records, the origins of the first Yogi is shrouded in mysticism and legends. Shiva, one of the principal deities in Hinduism, was said to be the the first Yogi or Adiyogi and proceeded to pour all profound knowledge into the seven sages or “Saptarishis”. The saptarishis scattered all over the world and promoted this knowledge that they carried, and in one these lands is India, where Yoga and the yogic system found its fullest expression. In the modern period, yoga masters have travelled to the west and have propagated this practice internationally. Today, there are over thousands of Yoga Centers all over the world.
Our main informant, Yoga Instructor Ms. Joy, teaches Yin, Hatha, Vinyasa and Meditation out of the different varieties of Yoga. Yin observes holding the asanas, or posture, for periods of time while Hatha focuses on the strengthening the body along with the mind. Both of these forms could be combined to practice Vinyasa yoga, which highlights “flow”, ensuring that movement is aligned and linked with each inhale and exhale.
Aside from interviewing our Yoga instructor, we also decided to communicate with two of our fellow classmates in our Friday Morning Yoga Session at Whitespace. Arjo Mejilla is in his mid twenties working as a full time teacher at Ateneo Junior High School. In his spare time, he joins Yoga to practice his balance and mindfulness. While Nikki Regalario is a 19-year-old student at Ateneo De Manila University. It is her first time to join Yoga completely. She states that she only joined Yoga due to the recommendation of her friends.
According to Ms. Joy, “Practicing Yoga consistently allows your body to access your parasympathetic nervous system, helping you relax. Practicing the asanas will stretch your muscles and lubricate your joints, leading to a stronger and more flexible body”. Similarly, our other two informants, Nikki and Arjo, also agree with the health benefits of Yoga. Nikki does yoga to enhance her flexibility, as well as keeping her heart and skin healthy. On the other hand, Arjo knows that Yoga relieves muscle tensions, enhances breathing, improves posture and also gives a greater peace of mind.
Although our yogic knowledge is limited to only a few sessions, the disparities between the ‘mainstream’ Yoga introduced to us in social media and the Yoga as a spiritual discipline that we have come to know is glaringly evident. This colossal difference can be seen in the humble beginnings of Yoga as a religious and solemn practice juxtaposed with the glamour of today’s Yoga culture—the ostentatious paraphernalia, expensive retreat trips, and post-practice selfies in the name of so-called “enlightenment” and “self-realization”—that it came to be associated with, which ultimately, turned a sacred ritual into a recreational gimmick.
The three of us only aspire that the wellness culture in the Philippines, currently perceived as “cool” and “chic,” can evolve into something that it was always meant to be—not for bragging purposes nor selfish consumption, but for the physical, mental, and spiritual enlightenment of the Filipino people.
- What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
One of the things that came to mind is how diluted the practice is, the diminution of a discipline that came into existence almost a millennium ago in a modern world that actually has the capacity to immortalize the antiquity of wisdom. The three of us initially thought of Yoga as something very easy, leisurely, and undemanding. That impression has long been registered in our minds, reinforced by the various posts on social media. A preconceived notion like this is dangerous to the study, as it would become the foundation on which every observation would rest on. If we had only performed observation, we would suffer from confirmation bias—the tendency to recognize only the actions that support and confirm our established beliefs and ideas and ignoring the ones that contradict and coincide with them. This selective perception dismisses other possible behaviors and explanations, ultimately clouding our judgments and jeopardizing the objectivity that we aspire to have. This is why participation or participant-observation is deemed paramount in order to come up with an ethnography. Though this, we were able to gain a first-hand experience of how the Yoga depicted on various forms of media were entirely different from what was offered to us in reality. Contrary to the picture-perfect postures of toned first-timer girls online, the three of us encountered several difficulties in finding our balance and maintaining our stance. Pictures and videos circulating online show carefree and equally sweat-free Yoga practitioners who seem to show no signs of struggle, despite their lack of previous experience. From our participation, we were able to subject ourselves to the true reality of Yoga, one that we would not have been able to fully understand through mere observation.
- What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
Having a key informant in something unfamiliar as Yoga proved to be crucial for our ethnography. Granted that there is the World Wide Web, literally at the tip of our fingers, with vast amounts of information, it would still not be tantamount to what a Yogini of almost 10 years has to offer. Ms. Joy knows the ins and outs of Yoga, not only as a practice but as a profession, like the back of her hand. She disclosed confidential information about the process of accreditation as a Yoga instructor that we would not have been able to have access to. She also shared insights from her own unique perspective as someone from the inside, which enabled us to employ the emic approach of studying and describing the Yoga culture within the realms of understanding of an insider. Having a key informant also helped us balance the tone of our ethnography—ensuring that our personal reflections and etic perspectives did not overshadow the realities within.
- What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
Yoga, for all intents and purposes, is a solitary activity. External factors such as other people, objects, or even surroundings, holds little to no bearing at all to the practice. Everything is wholly internal. It is because of this that the essence of the discipline will only be captured by an individual who practices it, an objective look or a glimpse from another participant will not be sufficient. To learn and practice Yoga is not to critically analyze it, but to feel and experience it in all of its forms. To attain self-actualization and enter a state of freedom, which are things that could not be grasped without self-involvement.
- For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
More often than not, we are subject to human error. Even with the effort to not influence the situation at hand, the observer-expectancy effect and confirmation bias can and will continue to taint the lens with which we observe and look at the world. As opposed to participant observation, a questionnaire reduces the chances of bias and proposes a more objective inspection into the fieldwork, although lacking the necessary personal, first-hand experience for an ethnography. If, hypothetically, we were to conduct and hand out questionnaires instead of directly observing, we would have lost the personal liberation and intimacy with oneself that the practice of Yoga promotes. An interview would be marginally better to correct and verify our assumptions and hypotheses gathered from observing, although second-hand experience still pales in comparison to encountering the actual spiritual discipline itself.
- Using our cafeteria observation exercise as reference, what insights did you gain about Philippine society and culture from the event that you observed and participated in?
Initially, we have observed that the Yoga culture in the Philippines has lost touch with the reality and the true essence of Yoga—to embark on a personal wellness journey to attain liberation and self-realization through movement, breathwork, and reflection. We saw the unfortunate reduction of Yoga into a mere indication of a healthy lifestyle that translates to bragging rights, exemplified by curated feeds on social media platforms. But through this activity we have immersed ourselves in, we were first-hand witnesses to open-minded and passionate people who perceive Yoga as a sacred ritual that improves their health and wellbeing. This serves as glaring evidence to the flourishing of Yoga in the Philippines—not as a means to show off online, but to seek spirituality within oneself.